As Senior Vice President and CIO of Adobe, Cynthia Stoddard oversees Adobe’s Global Information Technology and Reliability Engineering teams. In her leadership role, Cynthia spearheads a global strategy for delivering services and operations that form the backbone of the company. She has 25-plus years of business experience and IT expertise leading large global organizations including Adobe, Netapp, Safeway and APL Limited in supply chain, retail and technology development. Cynthia is a recipient of the 2017 CIO 100 Award, Adobe IT’s 2018 innovative ways to deliver business value and named a CIO Hall of Fame inductee in 2019. She holds a BS degree in accounting from Western New England University and an MBA from Marylhurst University.
Please talk to us about your role at Adobe. What are your top goals in this role for this year?
As Adobe’s CIO, my role is unique in that I have a horizontal, cross-functional view of the company and an end-to-end view of the business process. This vantage point provides me with a great platform to influence change across the company. I’ve long been an advocate for customers in my IT leadership roles and I’m passionate about building solutions that meet customers’ needs and drive efficiencies.
As we continue to navigate new ways of working, our focus is on how we can use creative technologies and processes to make companies more agile and resilient. A top priority for Adobe is understanding what the next generation of the hybrid workplace looks like, and how individuals are adapting to it. It’s not just about giving our workforce new tools. Instead, we are rethinking our processes to ensure workflows are compatible with how our employees are approaching work today.
Ultimately, our goal is to take IT out of the equation by leveraging services and processes that can be automated or shifted to a self-healing platform.
This year, I am excited to continue our work with Lab 82, which is a partnership between Adobe, my Digital Workplace Experience team and the HR Employee Experience team to test and develop more collaborative ways of working. The key areas of focus include community and wellbeing, ways of working, environment and technology. Lab 82 allows us to experiment with a range of solutions to help deliver a holistic and human-centered employee experience.
For example, we are looking at the most cutting-edge technologies like digital whiteboarding solutions, short throw projectors and AI powered cameras that will empower our hybrid workforce. We are also experimenting with pressure testing, which will optimize the experiences of our workforce.
What is unique about being a woman in tech at Adobe?
Our Adobe founders, John Warnock and Charles Geschke, believed that good ideas can come from anyone, anywhere in the organization, so fostering new and diverse perspectives is really a part of Adobe’s culture.
As a woman in tech, I appreciate that Adobe aims to invest in people that have a collaborative mindset, even if that means letting go of some control in the pursuit of collaboration. We encourage employees to approach problems with an open mind, empowering our people to share new perspectives that lead to better innovation.
While the customer experience is a top focus for me and my team, I believe our success is rooted in creating positive employee experiences as well. Recent years have provided an opportunity to thoughtfully reexamine our team culture and lean into how we can better support our people. For example, the shift to remote work has offered a unique opportunity to further inclusivity by equalizing participants in a meeting and requiring new types of collaboration.
I am proud to be part of an organization that is committed to DE&I as a strategic priority. I believe this helps individuals feel valued and safe at work while helping everyone be more creative and innovative.
What are some challenges you’ve had to overcome as a woman in tech throughout your career?
As a woman, it’s harder to build credibility in areas that are stereotypically male dominated. Early in my career when I worked in the transportation and logistics industry at a freight/trucking company, it was heavily dominated by men at all levels. While the expectation was different for my male counterparts, I felt that to build trust and credibility with some of my colleagues and leaders, I needed to invest extra time in the evenings to read, research and learn. As a result, I built up my confidence and expertise, which allowed me to ground my thoughts in proof points and data. This extra work, and my commitment to being a life-long learner, made me stand-out and solidified valuable relationships.
It’s important to take time to foster relationships with others to establish trust and credibility. This is one of your most powerful assets and it puts you in a stronger position to make an impact faster—especially during crunch time or when presented with a tough situation.
From your experience, what can tech do to better uplift women in the industry?
Over the past few decades, women in S.T.E.M. have made a lot of progress, but there is still work to be done. First, we need to acknowledge and understand that inequality gaps exist for women and other underrepresented groups.
Every organization should be providing a platform for women to voice their opinions and share their ideas. Creating a space to openly discuss the issues that employees are facing is essential to solving that problem. Then, companies need to ensure what is learned from those conversations are turned into meaningful actions.
At the same time, improving the experience for women in tech and business should not fall solely on the shoulders of the women in tech. To create a more inclusive and supportive workforce, every worker—from the CEO down to the interns—needs to work on eliminating personal biases and advocating for those who may not feel comfortable speaking up.
Finally, the uncertainty and volatility of the past couple years during the pandemic has had a disproportionate and challenging impact on women. We are often caregivers, wives, mothers or grandmothers, while simultaneously balancing our professional duties and aspirations. However, I think the lessons learned during the pandemic provide professional women with a unique opportunity moving forward—we should feel empowered to try new ways of working to help us define the right balance between our personal and professional lives. I strongly believe a hybrid and flexible “future of work” is the right solution, and the ideal opportunity and environment for us to thrive as women in technology and business.
What is your advice for women looking to pursue a career in tech and business?
“Don’t become a mushroom and don’t be in the dark.” As I was emerging as an IT leader, one of my mentors gave me this advice. To be a strong leader, you need to be well-connected and perceptive to business needs and the morale of your team. Leading with empathy can help inspire a supportive team dynamic that allows individuals to grow while meeting, or exceeding, business goals.
I encourage every person—but especially women in tech—to identify strong mentors and leaders who can help foster your interests and build self-confidence. Getting to know others may uncover experiences, values, or abilities that you may not see based on just their role.
Finally, evolve with the business. Change is constant in the digital era, so tech and business leaders need to constantly think about how they will evolve their skill sets to drive impact. They need to constantly look around the corner to stay abreast of emerging technology trends and demonstrate how innovative tech can be powerful business enablers. Change is powerful, embrace it.